Midnight Thanksgiving: Our Non-Traditional Family Tradition

Guest post by Natalie Wood

It started off as jealousy. As an only child living with a single parent in Las Vegas, there was an unspoken rule about holidays: if we weren’t invited somewhere, there was really no reason to cook a huge meal, and we’d end up in a hotel buffet line. On the years we were invited into someone’s house, I would revel in the whole togetherness of it all. The idea of a large family coming together, complete with quirky relatives, kids running amok, and sometimes burnt food, but always smiles and love, was amazing to me. I always felt sad by the end of the night, because I knew there was no promise I’d be back the next year.

Maybe because I’d seen such a wide variety of holiday get-togethers, I was born with a deep love of hosting parties, and as I got older I was fortunate enough to be allowed to cook Thanksgiving dinner at other people’s houses. But I still felt like an alien invader, or at the very least, Special Guest Cook.

When I moved up to the Pacific Northwest eleven years ago, I found myself scanning the local papers for the closest Thanksgiving buffet, and I realized that if I didn’t make a change, I was committing myself to the role of Holiday Nomad.

My first job in Portland was overnight stocking for a big box retailer. It wasn’t long before I started meeting more transplants like me, who couldn’t get the time off to fly home for the holidays, or just plain had nowhere to go. I wanted to invite everyone over, but there was also the nagging fact that while we did get Thanksgiving Day off, most of us would have to be at work before sunrise the day after Thanksgiving. Since we were all night owls anyhow, I offered to have everyone over on the Wednesday night before the holiday. And so the idea of Midnight Thanksgiving was born.

A decade later we’ve all moved on to other jobs, and some of us have moved away, but our Midnight Thanksgiving is still happening!

We do what makes us happy, what makes us laugh together, and by the end of the night I feel like I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in the best way possible: being thankful with my friends.

There is something magical about coming home from work and transforming my living room to hold 8-12 people, and by the time the clock rolls over to Thanksgiving, we’re all sitting down together to eat a meal together. It doesn’t matter that none of us are blood related; we’re family, and we always have a place to go.

Because Midnight Thanksgiving is our tradition, we’ve been able to make it anything we want, and bring in new and silly customs. We eat on fancy plates, with a fully decorated table, but I encourage guests to arrive in their pajamas, or at least dressed as comfortable as possible. For the past few years following the feast, we’ve each donned costumes and posed for a ridiculous “family portrait.” Instead of watching a football game afterward, we’ve taken to watching Riff Trax dubbed versions of movies we’d never see otherwise. We do what makes us happy, what makes us laugh together, and by the end of the night I feel like I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving in the best way possible: being thankful with my friends.[related_post align=”right”]

The next morning I’ll wake up early and turn on the parade. Eventually my husband will join me and we’ll heat up some leftovers and watch the National dog show. Later we’ll call our families and hear the clanging of pots and pans and the chaos of their impending celebrations, but I won’t feel jealous anymore. I finally have my own holiday tradition.

Comments on Midnight Thanksgiving: Our Non-Traditional Family Tradition

  1. As a fellow nomadic holiday person, I really love this. Thanks! It was really helpful after my brother can’t afford to come over for my first married Thanksgiving so it’ll just be me and the husband. It might be the start or something great, though!

  2. This is fantastic! and the portrait is the BEST!

    I love nontraditional Thanksgivings, i actually remember the ones when I/we created something new far more than the ‘usual’ ones. Canadian Thanksgiving is in October, and this year we were planning to visit my mother (this was just 3 weeks after we got married and my mother had been so amazing, i really wanted to spend it with her), but, my husband’s sister passed away on the day we were going and we had to spend the weekend here making travel arrangements, notifying family, etc etc. Of course we had no groceries or anything, but we *do* have a large city allotment garden. We decided we would have a ‘harvest feast’ of the truest sort. I bought a turkey breast, but every single other item we ate came from our garden that morning. It was a bittersweet meal, but i did love going back to the ‘roots’ of thanksgiving.

    Now, if we’d had friends to share it with – it would have been even better!

  3. My husband and his college roommates began a tradition called “Thuesday” back when they were in college – their school had Thursday classes on Tuesday during Thanksgiving week, so they decided to have their own Thuesday dinner on that day. We’ve moved it to Saturday the past two years, but we celebrated the tenth anniversary this year, and they only ever skipped one. I’m going to have to suggest the family portrait idea for next year 🙂 I love friend holidays, and recognizing that the families we choose can be just as important to us as those we are born into.

  4. Love it! My friends and I started doing “Thanksgiving in February” about 8 years ago to show a friend recently arrived from another country what Thanksgiving was about (plus, February is a gross month in Atlanta, and having a holiday party then is nice). Everyone brings a dish, we all wear terrible sweaters, and sit down to a really great meal with way too much food. 🙂

  5. We have “Orphan Thanksgiving”…this is the 9th annual. We all work on Thanksgiving (zoo animals gotta eat 365), so we have it at 6pm, after we’re all off work. Many of us moved here specifically for our job, and have no family in the area. While a little part of me is still sad to miss Thanksgiving with my family, this is a more than acceptable substitute. The hostess cooks a turkey and stuffing, and we all bring the rest of the feast pot-luck style. Dinner also involved taking a shot of Wild Turkey before we eat, further encouraging the warm fuzzies of holiday time!

  6. You had me at “hotel buffet line”.

    I was up until 2:30 cooking last night and I still have several more hours of cooking ahead of me. Right now “hotel buffet line” sound like the 3 most magical words in the English language.

    But I know I’ll feel different later today. Thanks for sharing your Thanksgiving memories.

  7. One year, my husband had to work on thanksgiving and all through the weekend following. I decided i didn’t want to spend the holiday “alone” since he was working midnight shift, so the weekend before thanksgiving, i invited all our friends and family that normally travel away for thanksgiving that we never really get to celebrate with and we did an early holiday. It allowed my husband to have the holiday, and it allowed me to travel (mostly) guilt-free with another relative to her in-laws for the actual holiday.

    I firmly believe that a holiday does not need to be celebrated on the day the calendar says. Can’t get together on Christmas day? do it the next weekend. Thanksgiving work schedule total crap, do it the weekend before (you’d be amazed how many people are free the weekend before!) The only exception that i’ve found to this rule is New Years Eve – it’s just not the same on another night 😉

  8. One of my friends hosts a ‘waifs and strays’ Christmas every year. All of our friends who don'[t have plans or can’t handle their families go there. Almost makes me want to ditch my own family for a year…

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